Production notes


19-year old Cabella has never known her parents and has lived with her non-related Uncle Max as long as she can remember. When Max dies and his upper-class relatives claim everything, Cabella only gets an old key that Max has left her in secret. Sad and without much to look forward to, she travels to Italy and finds a run-down villa in a little village where she starts to live since she has nowhere else to go...
Little by little Cabella starts to fit into the life of the village. She turns the house livable and makes friends with three local sisters. The oldest of the sisters, Maria, is smitten with mysterious, aristocratic Lord Jai, a young Indian man who lives in the village castle. Middle sister Sophia is a budding artist who roams the woods and mountaintops, painting wildlife and little sister Giulia waits for the man of her life every day at the village bus, but no one ever comes.
In her new home, Cabella befriends the ghost of a 9-year-old chimney sweeper who died in the house long ago.
With Angelo's and the sisters' help, she begins to discover more about the mysterious woman who lived in the house before and whose clothes she has been wearing ever since she moved in. As the mysteries slowly unfold Cabella rediscovers her joie de vivre, as do many people in whose life she has suddenly drifted.
A life-affirming, timeless romance, The Italian Key portrays a journey of self-discovery, friendship and love in a nostalgic Italian mountain village.


The Italian Key is quite an unusual film both for its content and the way it was filmed. It definitely is not "commercial" in the sense that it wasn't planned in order to be an easy sale. It's an idealistic little film with a heart of gold - it addresses some deeper themes while, at the same time, it aims to entertain and provide the audience with a satisfying and thoroughly happy ending.
It is not for everyone - there are no explosions or car chases, nor explorations of the violent and dark sides of the human psyche. If that makes it an "uncool" film that is too naive or sappy for some, so be it. It is not a clever film that would try to challenge the rational mind, it's more of a study on how to bring in the qualities of the heart and let them manifest within a story and narrative style.
We wanted the film to be empowering, promoting healthy self-image and values, and all about understanding and appreciating the beauty of life and how to be good to oneself and others. One of the recurring themes in the film is self-imposed solitude, and how to step back into wanting and enjoying love and friendship when the biggest obstacle standing in front of happiness is you!
We put the production together with a wonderful international collection of people, including Italian, Finnish and American film professionals and with more than twenty eager young people working for the first time on a movie set. All in all our “little” movie proved to be a lot more ambitious than we had originally thought, with hundreds of costumes, dozens of locations, story lines with multiple main characters spanning through decades...
We shot seven weeks on location in beautiful Piemonte and Liguria, Italy, in tiny mountain villages populated by a few dozen around-the-year inhabitants. Many of our performers come from this region, and, with a few exceptions, the cast is made up of non-professionals, including the many young amateur actors and actresses that rose to good and endearing performances.
While making a movie on a very limited budget is always a challenge and a directors' life is a succession of compromise and conflict, I am happy to have done this film “my way” on so many levels, including a sustainable production that aimed at a minimal carbon footprint.
After having completed principal photography on the Italian segment, we moved on to some additional photography in Rajasthan, India and Bristol, UK, and finally completed post-production in November 2011.
The film has had a little festival run and a theatrical release in Finland in December 2011. With a platform release of a dozen screens countrywide the film became a little sleeper hit and run in theaters for almost 6 months. It has also been released in Czech Republic and Slovakia in 2013.


The young main actors are amateurs and were cast from the area, all of them are either summer or full-time residents of Val Borbera, where we shot the movie. Gwendolyn Anslow, who plays Cabella, is half Irish, half-French and lives in Italy. We run into her when she was waitressing at our favorite restaurant in Rocchetta Ligure! The three sisters are real-life sisters Joana, Elisa and Isadora Cartocci. Their father is Italian and mother is Brazilian, but they live in Italy and reside in a little village next to Cabella in the summers. Leo is played by Leo Vertunni, half-British and half-Italian, who also lives in Cabella during most of the year, when he is not studying his passion, the sitar, in India. Little Gioele Franchini, only 9 years at the time of shooting, hardly knew any English at all but did very well in the role of Angelo, the ghost boy! Lord Jai is portrayed by a British actor of Indian heritage, Moose Ali Khan, who is making a transition from modeling to acting. As a model, he has been seen in many high-profile campaigns for Zegna, Armani and other world-class brands. Some of the other actors are seasoned professionals, like popular Swedish actors Andreas Wilson and Richard Ulfsäter, Finnish heartthrob Mikko Leppilampi and American actors John Shea and Joeanna Sayler.

We shot the movie on our two own RED cameras and had two DP's for the film, which is of course a little unusual. The reason for this is that we wanted to showcase the beauty of our mountain valley shooting location and needed a DP with a strong eye for natural light and composition in landscapes and outdoors locations. For this we enlisted the help of our good friend Ville Tanttu, who stared as a nature photographer and has moved on to make nature documentaries. We scouted locations and often stayed for long to find out how the light changes in each place, then scheduled to shoot around the best time. Many days, we shot outdoors just at the "golden hour" - one hour before sunset, and one hour after sunrise.
We shot everything on location, but needed to light the spaces, especially the big rooms of the villa and the castle. Italian DP Gianni Giannelli did the lighting and indoors shots, often happening simultaneously with outdoors photography. Gianni Giannelli also helped color grade the movie in post-production. While the RED raw material already looked glorious, his work with the coloring and nuances on screen was pivotal for the look of the finished film.
It is an un-ashamedly poetic and beautiful film with many "tableau" shots in which positioning of actors, costume and set design creates a moving "painting" for the audience to rest their eyes on.

We didn't want to make a period movie, but we wanted to have a timeless feel that vaguely reminds the audience of the 50's and 60's Italian countryside and villages (as seen in old Italian movies) without being too obviously any specific time. Production designer Stefano Maria Ortolani (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Gangs of New York, Letters to Juliet) helped us dress interiors with mostly existing props and furniture, keeping a lush look while working on a shoestring budget. In the movie we don't see mobiles or computers, or even modern cars - the retro cars where found in the area and their owners drove them around for us. Many props and especially textiles, bed linen etc. had been gathered by director Rosa Karo herself well before the shoot.

Director Rosa Karo did also most of the costume design for the movie and drew inspiration from the timeless and vintage quality of the locations. We used a lot of embellished off-the-shelf clothes as well as vintage dresses and gowns that we altered for the actresses. Special thought was put into Chiara's clothes that are later worn by Cabella when she explores the villa's wardrobe and its contents. Many of the male character's clothes were made after historical models such as Victorian or Edwardian men's clothes, but with more "earthly" materials such as linen, cotton and wool.


We employed two editors while cutting the film: veteran Paul Martin Smith (Behind Enemy Lines, Star Wars Ep 1: The Phantom Menace, Journey to the Center of the Earth (aka Journey 3D)) and young female editor Pauliina Punkki. Post-production was divided between Helsinki's Generator Post (where Inka Ruohela color graded the movie), and facilities in Italy and UK. Sound designer Olli Huhtanen created the soundscapes and Tuomas Kantelinen the sweeping, orchestral soundtrack. The sounds and music were mixed by Sami Sarhamaa at Kalevala Stages in Helsinki.